John Skrine was born in 1922 in Kuala Lumpur. His father, Walter Skrine, had joined the firm of Bannon & Bailey the previous year after transferring from the Colonial Legal Service in Kuching. As was customary in those days, John was left in England with his three siblings at an early age and finished his education at Uppingham. He spent two years in Chambers but this was interrupted by the 1939/45 war; he joined he Seventh Hussars and served in the Middle East. Then the tide of war turned in favour of the Allies and, promoted to Captain, he led a company up through Italy. He was awarded the Military Cross for leadership and the heroic rescue of one of his troops. Back in England, he completed his legal training in a hurry and then - drawn to revisit and perhaps practise in the land of his birth - he joined his father's old firm.
Bannon & Bailey split up in 1962. John Skrine together with the other young partners, joined Peter Mooney who recently arrived from Kuching and established a new multi-racial firm under the name of Skrine & Co. Skrine & Co. was the first expatriate-owned legal firm to admit Malaysian partners. Several Assistants, including Hussein Onn, Alex Lee, Tommy Lee, James and Dominic Puthucheary, soon became partners, followed by Chin Yoong Chong and many others.
John disliked Court work and concentrated by choice on company law. In the 1970s he was much involved in advising the London-based tin-mining and estate companies during the Federation of Malaya's complicated transition to independent Malaysia, and considered migrating to Canada in case he should no longer be welcome to practise in he new jurisdiction. However, an unofficial telephone call from the Attorney-General reassured him. For his impartial help and advice to British companies based in Malaysia during this period of transition, he was appointed C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire - a historic honour still current!) in 1982. His advice was particularly astute and valuable, because he understood and to an extend sympathised, equally with Malaysian aspirations as enshrined in the New Economic Policy, and the concerns of expatriate-based owners of estate and mine owning companies. He was for years chairman of the Pudu English Girls' School and devoted many Sunday mornings to developing the garden for the Little Sisters of the Poor in Cheras. After retiring as senior partner in 1990, he was retained by government agencies in establishing various PNB Unit Trust schemes.
John's interests were wide. He was honorary legal adviser to the Malaysian Nature Society, a keen horseman and polo player, and in his early days played rugby football. He rode in the Merdeka procession dressed as a Bajau horseman. Perhaps his crowning sporting achievement was to score all the goals for he Malayan Polo Team, captained by the Tengku Mahkota of Pahang, in a match played in Manila. But apart from the preservation of high standards in the practice of the law, the subject nearest to his heart in later years was the conservation of the rain forest, and he was deeply involved in the inauguration of the Belum project. Sadly for his family, with this on-going interest - indeed dedication - he could never bring himself to retire from practice, until ill health (colon cancer) unfortunately forced the decision on him. He died at his home - his wife's family home in the Irish Republic - shortly after, on 13 April 1993.
By: Helen Skrine & H S Barlow